Captain Obvious checked in to remind me that the Orioles will need to pitch better in 2020. He said that O’s fans have seen 223 losses and a lot of poor pitching over the last two years.
The Orioles were last in the American League in ERA, bullpen ERA, homers allowed, first-strike percentage, homers-per-fly-ball ratio and rotation OPS in 2019, to point out a few categories.
If you want a stat that is hard to explain, for the second year in a row, the Orioles allowed a lower hard-contact percentage than most, according to FanGraphs.com stats. In 2018 they allowed a 31.6 percent hard-contact rate, which was third-best in the league. They were third-best this year at 35.1 percent.
Seems strange, and it is certainly a bit of an outlier.
Here is a statistical look at how it went, where that ranked in the AL and how that compared to the AL average:
* Team ERA - 5.59 (15th), league average was 4.60
* Rotation ERA - 5.57 (14th), league average was 4.76
* Bullpen ERA - 5.63 (15th), league average was 4.41
* Quality starts - 41 (12th), league average is 56
* Walks - 591 (9th), league average was 528
* Strikeouts - 1,248 (13th), league average was 1,416
* Shutouts - 5 (12th), league average was 8
* Average against is .271 (13th), league average was .254
While the Orioles’ offense and win-loss record got better in the second half, the post-All-Star-Game portion of the year, the O’s pitching did not. The team ERA was 5.68 in the first half and 5.65 in the second. The OPS against was .838 before the break and .840 afterward, and their first- and second-half WHIP numbers were 1.468 and 1.448, respectively.
Before the All-Star Game, the O’s offense produced 4.21 runs per game and an OPS of .704. The Orioles’ record in the first half was 27-62 (.303). After the break, the Orioles scored 4.85 runs per game with an OPS of .749 and a record of 27-46 (.370).
That second-half .370 win percentage, if maintained for 162 games, produces a record of 60-102. Still bad, of course, but this year that would have meant the Orioles would select fourth and not second in the first-round of the draft next June.
So, yes, the Orioles were a little better after the break, but the pitching had nothing to do with it.
John Means went 12-11 with a 3.60 ERA and was a shining star on the 2019 O’s staff. But among pitchers throwing 30 or more innings last season, the only Baltimore hurlers pitching to ERAs of less than 5.00 were Mychal Givens (4.57), Miguel Castro (4.66), Dylan Bundy (4.79) and Asher Wojciechowski (4.92). Andrew Cashner pitched to an ERA of 3.83 in 17 starts before he was traded to Boston.
So the O’s had six pitchers, counting Cashner, who pitched 30 or more innings with an ERA under 5.00. The New York Yankees and Houston Astros had 13 such pitchers each.
Speaking of Houston, will the O’s over time feature a pitch mix more like the 2019 Astros? While Houston led the AL in average fastball velocity at 94.2 mph, Houston ranked last in fastball use percentage at 45.6. The O’s ranked 14th at 92.4 mph but threw the fourth-most fastballs at 54.9 percent.
Houston pitchers threw 13.5 percent curveballs, tied for second-most in the AL. The Orioles placed last in that category at 4.8 percent. Houston pitchers ranked seventh in slider usage but third in cut fastballs, which are slider-like, at 9.8 percent. Baltimore pitchers threw cutters 3.5 percent to rank 13th in the league.
I will guess it is safe to say the Orioles over the next year or two will throw fewer fastballs while their curveball and cutter usage increases.
But getting back to where we started today, how will the Orioles improve in the pitching department next year? What should they do to get better?